Well, after a few weeks of research, I finally got myself a Nikon-refurbished D40 for $460 out the door with the 18-55mm lens.
The need for the camera arose out of a lost $50 point-and-shoot and the need to take about 100 pictures for a book I am publishing. Having a background in photography (1.5 years high school photography classes with a professional working photographer), I would've been comfortable with my old-fashioned manual focus Canon AE-1, but by the time I bought the film and developing for all the shots I need, I would've been out a hundred bucks or so, plus the time of making digital scans. Despite being very poor, I felt it was time to upgrade to a digital SLR.
I looked at the Pentax 100D. Truth be told, it was the camera I wanted and when I found it at Circuit City, new, for $411 after rebate, I wanted to jump on it, but they were sold out. I'm a sensual person. I dig the way things feel and taste and smell and the Pentax is supposed to be a great shooting experience. Since I'm not a pro-photographer trying to eke out the last fraction of a megapixel, I felt that this was worth something. Also, the Pentax has backwards compatability to every Pentax lens ever produced and in-camera Vibration reduction. Man, did I want that VR in a bad way!
But then, this refurb popped up on eBay. Good price, reportedly far better picture quality, more options, a great kit lens. That's when I remembered that my Canon AE-1 didn't have "Vibration Reduction" and I managed to take perfectly fine pictures without it. Heh. So I got the Nikon and am happy to report I am thrilled with it. The best things about it are
1. You can do an in-camera color-correction with a full RGB histogram. This means no more funky blue or orange pictures out of the camera.
2. Auto-ISO makes the lack of Vibration Reduction a minor issue. The camera can be set to auto-select a higher "ISO" equivalent at slow shutter-speeds. So when you're shooting at 1/30th of a second, you don't have VR, but the camera bumps your ISO rating from 200 to 400, just for that one shot so you can keep the higher shutter speed. That makes VR really only an issue for long tele lenses, and let's be honest, if you're shooting those kinds of shots, you'll have a $3000+ lens that comes equipped with that feature anyway... and it'll work WAY better than the built-in feature on a $400 camera.
3. Great quality as ISO 1600. You can seriously make a nice 16x20 print with ISO 1600. And it goes to ISO 3200 if you need it.
4. It's lightweight.
5. It's available for about $500.
6. Six MegaPixels. Before you say that isn't enough, see the picture below.. taken at ISO1600. Really, how much more do you need?
I'm reacquainting myself with all the different features of an SLR as I also get comfortable with the digital menus and how everything is laid out. One of the things I've noticed about dSLR cameras, and digital things in general, is that it's possible to get so caught up in all the things you CAN do, that you forget what it is you're SUPPOSED to do. I'm already playing around with exposure compensation and white balance and other "crutches" for people who can't take a good picture. Speaking of not taking good pictures though...
Just from my first day of dinking around with it... In my defense, I haven't even TRIED to compose any shots or looked for good subjects, I'm just walking around going snap-snap-snap to get a feel for things... Here's one, No Flash, ISO1600 with shutter 1/30s @ F5.6, 22mm, in fading daylight. This is "Medium" Quality. I could always bump it up to "fine" if I felt I needed more resolution.
And the same picture, just cropped...
Even closer... But now we are getting ridiculous!!! Again, this is ISO1600